POLITICAL CORRUPTION

Former Popular Party minister found guilty of influence peddling

Jury rules Matas abused his position as Balearic premier to extract benefits for his wife from a hotel owner

A jury on Thursday found the former Popular Party (PP) premier of the Balearic Islands, Jaume Matas, guilty of abusing his position to coerce a company into paying his wife 42,000 euros for a job she never carried out.

The prosecutor has asked for a fine of 9,000 euros to be levied on Matas.

Matas’s wife, Maite Areal, who is a schoolteacher, was hired as a public relations officer at the luxury Mallorca hotel Palma Valparaiso, which forms part of the Grupotel, and whose owner Miguel Ramis told the court that he did so out of a favor to the politician. Members of the PP and Matas used the hotel on a number of occasions.

Investigating Judge José Castro and state prosecutor Pedro Horrach had argued that Areal never worked at the hotel or collaborated with the management in any discernible manner.

“We don’t have the body on the table, but the hiring was fictitious,” Horrach said Wednesday. He went on to say that during the period that Matas was in office in the Balearics, politicians were like “demigods who forgot what it was to serve the public. [...] Elegant cars choked up the streets of Palma and our representatives were surrounded by an entourage of well-heeled people,” he added.

A court in Palma de Mallorca last year sentenced Matas to six years and nine-and-a-half months after finding him guilty of six charges, including fraud, influence peddling, embezzlement, falsifying documents and dereliction of his public duties in connection with the so-called Palma Arena case.

However, the sentence was reduced by the Supreme Court to nine-and-a-half months, meaning that Matas, who was also a minister in the conservative government of José María Aznar, will not spend time in prison as jail terms of under two years in the case of first offense are not normally enforced.

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